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Underdog Politics

Underdog Politics: The Minority Party in the U.S. House of Representatives

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Underdog Politics
    Book Description:

    In the first comprehensive study of the subject in decades, political scholar Matthew Green disputes the conventional belief that the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives is an unimportant political player. Examining the record of the House minority party from 1970 to the present, and drawing from a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data, Green shows how and why the minority seeks to influence legislative and political outcomes and demonstrates that the party's efforts can succeed. The result is a fascinating appreciation of what the House minority can do and why it does it, providing readers with new insights into the workings of this famously contentious legislative chamber.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18226-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-33)

    Frustration and freedom. Both are familiar to lawmakers unfortunate enough to be in the minority party. Though the two sentiments differ, they come from the same source: disempowerment. The minority party’s lack of formal political power—an enduring feature of many legislative bodies, including the U.S. House of Representatives—understandably frustrates lawmakers from the minority who want to have an effect on national policy. But powerlessness also permits them to act with little worry for the consequences. Asked about serving in the minority, one House aide put it this way: “You can just sit back and say, whom do I...

    (pp. 34-70)

    Above all else, the minority party in the House no longer wants to be a minority. That means it must win elections. And the most direct way to win elections is by electioneering: recruiting strong challengers, raising and spending money on campaigns, and developing election-year platforms. These three activities are the subject of this chapter.

    Since the reason for electioneering is obvious, it is unnecessary to explain why the minority does it. Instead, I describe the development and use of these three basic campaign tactics since 1971, with particular focus on the role of party leaders, entrepreneurial members, and party...

  6. three MESSAGING
    (pp. 71-112)

    Members of Congress are masters at messaging. With hundreds of thousands of constituents, representatives cannot realistically hope to win reelection solely through retail politics—knocking on doors, doing favors, holding coffee klatches, and so forth. Instead, spinning a story, providing a pithy quote, and touting one’s accomplishments through mass media are far more efficient ways to make a good impression on many voters at once.¹

    This holds true for the day-to-day activities of lawmakers as well as what they do on the campaign trail. The three basic election-oriented behaviors of incumbent legislators—position-taking, credit-claiming, and advertising—all involve, to varying...

    (pp. 113-141)

    It was not the usual sort of amendment one might see in the House of Representatives. Phil Gingrey, a Republican from Georgia, had just been recognized on the floor to offer the first amendment of the day to an agriculture spending bill. His amendment proposed cutting $50,050 from the office of the secretary of agriculture, a mere 1% of its total budget for the 2008 fiscal year.¹ After Gingrey gave a short speech defending the proposal, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro rose and announced that her party, the majority party in the House, would agree to the amendment. But that was...

    (pp. 142-178)

    Legislators are supposed to legislate. But no legislative body gives all its members equal power to do so. In the House of Representatives, it is the members of one group—the majority party—who are granted disproportionate say in the lawmaking process. While this may make sense in terms of efficiency and democratic theory, it is also the core source of frustration for the minority party. It largely explains why the minority today focuses far less attention on shaping the law than on its other collective concerns, and why it has become especially eager in recent years to wrest control...

    (pp. 179-190)

    The minority party in the House faces a strategic problem: how do you respond when given only a small slice of the legislative pie? Do you accept the slice you’ve been given, bargain for more, or use every means at your disposal to win the right to cut the pie yourself? It is this problem, and how the minority party chooses to solve it, that underlies the logic of minority party politics in the House of Representatives.

    I have argued that there is no straightforward solution to this difficult conundrum. The belief that minorities respond by doing whatever will get...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 191-236)
    (pp. 237-266)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 267-275)